Friday, April 25, 2008

INSIEME (in NYC) is not quite ALL together, despite good food

Last Friday I arrived in Manhattan early for an opera curtain and as I wandered around, I decided to try INSIEME (located in the Michelangelo Hotel) on the corner of West 51st Street at 7th Avenue (right in the heart of Times Square). I have tried to dine here in the past post-theater, but it is only 70 seats and always jammed!

INSIEME ( means "together" and while the overall experience was pretty good, I was grossly disappointed with the TINY portions.

The menu offers TRADITIONAL ITALIAN nad MODERN CONTEMPORARY sides, so I started with the traditional VITELLONE CRUDO which was a Pasture-Fed BEEF TARTARE made with Porcini Mushrooms and Lemon. It was about as tasty as could be in the mid-teens could have been more than five-six small bites. It does come with about eight small slices of bruschetta like salted toast, but it was Passover and they did not offer a Mazta alternative!

The meal actually began with some very nice and TINY amuses. The first tray of three one bite items included an OLIVE stuffed with GORGONZOLA, a BRUSCHETTA slice (just like that with my tartare--about 1/2 inch round) with RICOTTA (I skipped the bread) and a RADISH with a hollow in the top filled with OLIVE OIL and ANCHOVY, although I could taste no anchovy, salt or fish at all.

A wonderful three sip espresso cup came with STRACIATELLA that wonderful Italian version of EGG DROP soup that was made with the best of broths.

My wine was a 3 ounce tasting of PIGREGO Cipresso 2005 from SICILY which was an UNtypical blend for that island of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot nad Merlot. It was a yummy wine, but since I had a long opera, I kept my sips small and far between. Incidentally the wines come in 6 or 3 ounce tastes ranging from $4.25 to $18, a very good idea.

My entree was from the Contemporary side of the menu-MAGRET DUCK with FOIE GRAS, HAZELNUTS, RHUBARD and TURNIPS consisted of 6 small thin and tasty slices of duck (each a maximum of two bites) over a bed of spinach. The foie gras was similarly two bites and not very exciting with about one total crumbled hazelnut and two small slices or rhubard underneath.

I couldnt' find anything for dessert that did not have cake (it was Passover) so I skipped and they brought me thee super-mini biscotti which I quickly turned back as well. I guess it never cliecked in when i said I did not want any bread at the start!

I left hungry and felt I should stop somewhere for a salad. Perhaps I chose the wrong items, but at $30-something for duck I expected to be reasonably full....maybe next time, if there ever is one. Chef MARCO CANORA has created a beautiful setting and some wonderful food options, he just must be very chintzy!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

partaking of Passover at DINO's is delicious

We have been on the DINO's e-mail list for some time now and were very excited to receive a notice that they would be offering a Passover-"STYLE" meal (that means NOT kosher, but using Passover ingredients and eliminating flour that has leavened) for the entire holiday this week. Sadly, so few restaurants in DC offer anything of this kind, so it is a nice break to get out during the holiday for some of us, and for Samuel who was getting tired of chicken, kugel and matzo-ball soup! Even worse, is the fact that fewer DC dining spots even offer the option of MATZA instead of bread. The cost (at Safeway, not wholesale) for a 5 pound 5pack of Matza was about $2.99 which yields about 75 pieces...more than enough to feed those requesting matza in a restaurant on a given day. So chefs, why not give in and splurge for those of us who might come in! It's just a week and a good PR move at virtually no cost, and surely CHEAPER than bread!

In addition, last night when we returned home, I received the monthly email from BEBO in Crystal City, which announced a similar 4course Passover "STYLE" meal; it just arrived a bit too late!

Upon arrival at DINO's last night ( Samuel insisted we sit outside on the patio on the side street just off Connecticut Avenue. It was a gorgeous evening, and at that point nobody was outside, so we easily agreed. Sitting outside in DC can be anotyher fun thing at this time of the year, just be sure you have a way to get your server's attention if they are working both inside and outside, as it sometimes can be a bit frustrating (like wehn we needed to get the check and get Samuel home to bed).

Sam wanted pasta so badly (that's we he always gets at Dino) and we reminded him that there was not a "matza pasta" but that I promised to make "matza pizza" tonight at home. Instead he gobbled down (and he is normally a slow eater) three huge meatballs with sauce on the SALTIMBOCCA appetizer; he claimed it was the "yummiest stuff I ever had in my whole life!"

We opted for the 6 course $55 Passover meal with accompanying wines for an additional $38 available through the end of Passover this Sunday (I assume). It was a huge filling meal and for the most part fun, novel and enjoyable.

A small plate arranged as a Seder plate comes out with roasted shank bone, roasted egg, bitter greens (the Italian "puntarelle"), horseradish(bitter herbs or MAROR) and salt water. This was not necessary as the Seder meal is only the first two nights (last Sat & Sun), but it was interesting to have the puntarelle.

The first coarse is entitled TRIS di HAROSET and offers three types of Haroset, the nut,wine and apple mixture served at the seder (resembling the mortar the Jews used to build Egyptian structures) in which we dip the bitter herbs. VENETIAN style had pine nuts and was the lightest (most central European style), EGYPTIAN was with dates and was a dark thick mixture traditional for the Sephardim ("oriental" Jews hailing from the Mediterranean and Middle East) and our favorite seemed to be the 7 FRUIT SURINAM with coconut (a real novelty). Of course there was plenty of matza and ground white horseradish with vinegar. This was served with a red sparkling ANTICHI GIOCHI "VOULET" (Malvasia Rosa) 2007 from Casorzo which was a brilliant idea for pairing; slightly sweet alone, but changing to complement the harosets.

Next came homemade CARIBBEAN GEFILTE FISH with mahi mahi, whitefish, carpo and pike with Caribbean spices that was mild and tasty, served with a yummy ELENA WLACH GEWURTZTRAMINER 2006 from Alto Adige in the north.

The VENETIAN MATZO BALL SOUP offered fluffly light matza balls made with almond flour, chunks of chicken, walnut oil, hard spices, parsley and vegetables in a peppry broth that was superb (and alas soooo filling as soup can be). The ROVEGLIA "Catullus" (Trebbiano di Lugana) 2005 from Lugana Lombardia was a fruity wine but dry and another wonderful pairing with the spices in the soup.

For the entree there was a choice of three items one being Rockfish, but I opted for the PULCINO all GIRARROSTO which was a small YOUNG CHICKEN half roasted with POMEGRANATE & GARLIC Glaze and served with Spinach. The glaze was thick, but only brushed on so as not to overdose the meat with sweetness. The wine wasa medium bodied slightly acidic RADDA CHIANTI 2005 which married so perfectly with the glaze. Will chose the CIMA di VITELLO which was a white wine braised all natural VEAL BREAST with Garlicky Greens, Roasted Turnips and Parsnips which was like a pot roast of veal, soft, tender and tasty. The
HILBERG BARBERA d'ALBA 2006 was a lighter red wine working well with the lighter meat and light sauce as well.

All entrees come with TWO sides: a gorgeous TUNISIAN Spiced TZIMMES (which is actually a traditional Eastern European mixture of sweet potato and carrots) but here doctored with the wonderful spices (I doubt a Sephardi Jew from Tunisia would even think of making tzimmes, so kudos to Dino's on this one) and an EGGPLANT, ZUCCHINI, POTATO, ONION and Golden Raisin Kugel that was okay, but not as good as my veggie kugel I make at home (I like it with a crunchy crispy top browned in the oven!).

You chould choose off the regular dessert menu and while Sam wowed over a scoop of Chocolate Ice Cream and Will enjoyed three sorbets (coconut, blood orange and I forget?) which Sam also helped him with graciously, I opted for the Dolce di Pesach (the Hebrew word for Passover) which was a "BAKLAVA" made from layered matza, honey and nuts. The filling was tasty, but sadly matza gets soggy when mixed with these items and the "baklava" idea is lost going from crisp phyllo to soggy matza, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless. Will sipped a glass of TRAMONTIS LIMONSARDO, a limoncello from Sardinia while I quaffed the POPPIANO Vin SANTO, actually a good choice with the honey-rich dessert.

We all had a good time getting out since we are back to our gefilte fish, two chickens, kugel, sweet potatoes and matza ball soup leftovers from the Seder tonight, of course with a small appetizer of MATZA PIZZA!

Happy Passover to all!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

new heavenly menu at NEW HEIGHTS

NEW HEIGHTS ( has been at the corner of Calvert & Connecticut across from the Omni Shoreham for almost 25 years now, and this time of the year it's thje prettiest with all the flowering tress in Rock Creek Park in bloom across the street.

It's been almost on year since Chef JOHN WABECK returned to the helm and things are better than ever. I mentioned earlier this week I was going to compare the Zagat "food" rating of the Oval Room at "21" to that of New Heights at "22." somebody must have been asleep as there is much more than a ONE POINT difference merely in flavor, let alone everything else, such as quality and care of food. The lower ratings that New Heights gets for decor and service are INSANE, as the location (both inside and out) are both so much more pleasant and accommodating than the Oval Room's boring bland decor and the service at New Heights has always been TOP NOTCH, while the other night at the Oval Room, I found myself often begging for bread, water, wine, or whatever, which often took a long time to come.

The elegant decor is beautifully supplied by owner Umbi SIngh's sister, who owns a gorgeous furniture/art gallery in Bethesda called Sansar, and indeed Mr. SIngh and his gorgeous wife always ensure that everyone has a perfect time.

Our server Kristin was new to us, but she knew her menu and wine list and was a great asset.

We started with a bottle of BLANC de COUPE ROSES 2006 Champ du Roy which is a Rhone blend of Marsanne/Rousanne & Viognier (don't let the "rose" fool you into thinking it's a rose wine!) that had a perfumey aroma and great flavors with lots of minerals. It comes from the Vins de Pays des Cotes de Brian, which is a region I have never heard of in Provence (I assume it is pronounced BREE-ahn, rather than named after our English name BRY-an!).

Will started with the ROASTED VERMONT BEETS with Walnut-Roasted PESTO and St. Pete's Blue Cheese which was a revelation (perhaps due to St. Pete) in beet salads and the mild blue was superb as well. Just as we tasted a huge motorcade drove by below (10 cycles, 5 police cars, 2 huge limos and 3 or so CIA-type SUV's) so maybe the Pope was passing by (or perhaps the British PM).

My SEARED ORGANIC CHICKEN LIVERS with Bacon Cornbread and Truffle Cream were cooked to perfection and I could not leave a dribble of the fabulous rich sauce on the plate. FIVE ONION CARNAROLI RISOTTI with Graysen Cheese was a delicious turn on the traditional dish using the firmer grain and having it loaded with so many different onion flavors, all mild and caramelized to perfection.

Our red wine was an excellent full-bodied coffee and blackberry filled 2005 STEPHEN ROSS PINOT NOIR from Edna Valley, Calif that we all savored and adored. It went great with all the dishes as it was neither too light nor too big.

SEARED MAINE DIVER SCALLOPS were two huge bivalves surrounded by QUINOA with Dried Chili-Brown-Butter for a bite and OYSTER MUSHROOMS with Pumpkin Seeds. This is an inventive, tasty and exciting dish that I will have to try as it was my mother's choice last night. Will opted for the SUMAC DUSTED SWORDFISH which were thin filets surrounding an EGGPLANT NAPOLEON with ENGLISH PEA COULIS. The napoleon was a true style with delicate flaky phyllo layers surrounding the tasty eggplant puree (which I am usually not fond of!).

My FLINTSHIRE FARMS PHEASANT BREAST was a wonderful tasty and not too gamey bird served with STEEL CUT OATS and the most amazing ENDIVE MARMALADE that had the greatest flavor. The dish was finished off with PORT-soaked CHERRIES and was again a coup de cuisine for Chef Wabeck. Desserts are always a treat at New Heights ever since day one when their first chef (Alison Swope) introduced her famous cheesecake. Today there are are still great options and the CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING with Warm Butterscotch Sauce, Chocolate Ice Cream and Dried Cherries is a chocolate lover's dream (if they don't mind the carbs), while savored the lighter and berry infused STRAWBERRY PANNA COTTA topped with a tasty Strawberry "Salad."

As Passover is arriving tomorrow, we giggled when a plate of homemade Coconut Macaroons hit the table for us to nosh on before departing. I had just finished a huge batch of my own that afternoon (but mine are loaded with chocolate chips!).

So for now, head to NEW HEIGHTS which towers over the Oval Room in SO MANY ways (food, service, decor, views and even in feet above sea level!).

AND be sure to have a wonderful PASSOVER!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

an outing to the overrated(?) OVAL ROOM

Having lived in Washington over 29 years, I can;t believe I have never been to the OVAL ROOM (800 Connecticut Ave, NW which always seems to get (especially with th tourists) high ratings and is always on the "in" list for spots to be seen.

As you know, I don't care much for seeing or being seen, I just want good food. This week's outing was another private business party, so there was only a choice of two items on each course, but the food came NOWHERE close to that at Marcel's the previous week. It was decent, but unexciting and uninventive as well.

I do have to give credit for the wonderful foie gras mousse hor's d'oevres with kumquat, and the wines were quite good as well: a LAGARAI PINOT GRIGIO and a CANELLI 2006 Sangiovese blend that comes from the wonderful winemakers at Coltibuono.

I started with the SEARED DIVER SCALLOP with Cranberry-Olive and Toast. The scallops were plump, yummy and cooked just right. There was a light and not too flavorful cranberry-olive sauce (I would have loved some more) and the toast oddly consisted of several tiny dry unflavored croutons that I left.

I was in a fish mood and went for the SLOW BAKED COD, CHORIZO OIL, Raw & Cooked Fennel and asked for the Grapefruit to be left off (they said it was just a garnish anyway) due to that cholesterol drug problem. The fish was superb, again perfectly cooked and the oil was nice as well, but again needed something more flavorful. A bland swath of potato puree arced around the fish and the Fennel was the flavor highlight of the meal!

Mixed Seasonal Berries was a sad flat plate with some sliced strawberries, several raspberries and a blackberry.

With a Zagat rating of "21" for food, I am sorry to say that I think there are MANY more higher rated options in DC (and probably lower rated ones that are better as well) for example NEW HIEGHTS is rated "22" and has the same price range. Since we head there tonight, it should be a good comparison!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

munching luncheon at MARCEL's

Well those of your true foodies know that MARCEL's ( is not open for lunch, and furthermore that I rarely take luncheon when at home. HOWEVER, I was invited to a wonderful private business luncheon yesterday that must be recanted and reveled in.

We started sipping MUMM CUVEE NAPA N/V bubbly getting us all in the best of spirits and then sat down to three courses.

First came a rich delicious CREAM of LEEK and POTATO SOUP with Lardons of Applewood Smoked BACON and Crispy Leeks. Even though the chef was not in the kitchen, his staff knows soups, and this one did not disappoint one little iota. The wine was a crispy tasty LES HEURES BLANCHES 2004 from Domaine Mas Des Armes (Costiere de Nimes) from Provence. Speaking of Provence I had the pleasure of sitting next to the sales manager for the brilliant Bastide de Marie in that region amongst many other wonderful luxury hoteliers.

ANYWAY- next came ROASTED FARMHOUSE CHICKEN with Caramelized Shallots, Gruyere POTATO Cake, Melange of Vegetables and Tarragon Sauce that just melted in my mouth and was washed down by a slightly tannic CHATEAU VALCOMBE 2004 from Dominique Ricome made of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache, but improved as it opened up (from the same region).

Dessert was an APPLE CARAMEL CAKE with a yummy Muscat Sabayon, and I took my large doggie bag home, as there is no way on earth I can eat this much on a work day at lunch!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ted's MONTANA GRILL -take it more than leave it

Yesterday we joined two of Samuels' friends and their parents for dinner with the kids at TED's MONTANA GRILL ( at the Ballston location on Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, although this is a huge national chain started by the ubiquitous Ted Turner.

Zagat gives this "burger" spot decent ratings and even higher ones for families and groups, and in that vein, they did succeed. Upon arrival they boys all got these waxy stringy "stix" that they could mold to the bison sketch included or play with and make things of their own; this was a huge hit. The garlicky pickles which also came right away were superb, and even Samuel discovered a new food (he has been very good at this at home lately too--he now adores mushrooms!).

The kid's menu is not much more varied than usual, our boys chose the MAC N CHEEZ (is spelling so hard these dayz?) with fries or the BAR NONE SLIDERS (3 mini cheeseburgers) with fries which Samuel enjoyed tremendously once he doused them all with ketchup. They were out of our first choice of wine (from a fairly small wine list to begin with) so we settled for a decent HAYMAN & HILL 2005 CABERNET RESERVE from Napa. The ONION RINGS come huge and crispy piled high flavored with salt & pepper and a very mild creamy horseradish dipping sauce that even Will (who must the the only Englishman on earth who does not like horseradish) and Sam both liked. These well priced tasty morsels were a hit around the table!

Our server, Yoni, seemed to try very hard but the place got very crowded fast and things seemed to slide off service wise as the evening progressed. We had to ask about our entrees as we sipped the second bottle of wine, a CLINE ANCIENT VINES 2006 Zinfandel which paired very well with the spicy burgers.

A refill on one beer though took over 20 minutes to arrive at the table (but we were never charged for it!).

The burgers arrived and while the menu has many options, you go here for burgers or the chicken grills. Indeed, the two beef burgers chosen and the chicken grill (S.O.B. with Swiss/Onions/Bacon) all came warm and tasty, but the two BISON burgers (you can choose beef or bison, the latter being priced a bit higher) called CHILI CHEESE KAREN's "Flying D" with Bison Chili, Cheddar Cheese, Jalapenos and Grilled Onions (I switched my onions for guacamole) came lukewarm, but were still very tasty. The fries on the side were not ones I would write home about, although they were not bad. I opted for the Parmesan CREAMED SPINACH, but my burger came with fries by mistake. Yoni brought a bowl of Spinach (only after I reminded him twice) which we all passed around and enjoyed heartily, but after we had finished our burgers.

The kids had a mediocre 3 scoop bowl of chocolate ice cream split 3 ways, which Sam did not care for at all, and we all headed home quite full, only wishing for warmer burgers and a bit more timely service.